The Bourne Legacy

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Usually when the lead character opts out of a franchise, it usually means that the writing is on the wall for that particular series, but sometimes you’ll get one that manages crawl on after losing its main point of existing. Some inexplicably thrive like the Fast & Furious movies while others wither on the vine like the third, Myers-less Halloween movie or the Jason Statham free Transporter reboot – but some show a surprising amount of promise as it manages to expand its universe even after the reason for it existing has long since checked out.
This, unsurprisingly, brings us to The Bourne Legacy, a continuation of the continuing shit murky government agencies scramble to clear up after one of their agents develops a conscience after losing their memory. With both star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass tagging out with the not-unreasonable opinion that three Bourne movies were probably enough, the reigns were instead handed to series writer Tony Gilroy who diligently got to work on another movie that didn’t feature its titular character despite still sticking his name in the title.
Would this novel attempt at franchise resuscitation be still Bourne, or still born?

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After the events of the second movie saw former government blunt instrument Jason Bourne come after his handlers after causing one hell of an international incident, Colonel Eric Byer is brought in to minimise the fallout in case the details of Blackbriar, Treadstone, or any other shadowy, off the books, assassin programs manages to leak to the public.
Meanwhile, Arron Cross, an agent of one such program known as Outcome has been sent to an outpost in Alaska as punishment for going off the grid when he should have been checking in and he discusses various aspects about the life of a solitary government weapon with another agent sequestered at the cabin.
However, as the earthshaking events of The Bourne Ultimatum run their course and CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy releases top secret Treadstone files to the press, Byer now accepts that his job has suddenly gone from containment to disposal and starts shutting down every iffy programme he can and having agents callously snuffed in order to protect the agency. Of course, part of this operation ends up with a drone shooting a missile at the cabin Cross is chilling in and while his fellow operative is killed, Aaron goes on the run to try and procure the “chems” his handlers have him on which boost his mental and physical performance. Elsewhere, another near-victim of Byer’s purge of Outcome is Dr. Marta Shearing, who’s lab makes the chems that the agents are on, but when another attempt is made on her life, Cross intervenes and the two go on the run. Can the two stay alive and manage to wean Cross off his meds before the legacy of Jason Bourne comes crashes down around them.

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When I first watched this Bourne-less Bourne film back in 2012 I dismissed it as merely a desperate attempt to keep the life support on for a franchise who’s time had naturally come – and yet after a viewing with eyes refreshed after a ten year break, it turns out that The Bourne Legacy actually have way more to say than I initially thought. I shouldn’t have been surprised, really, as Gilroy has long been fascinated with the unspeakable acts performed by the people hired to protect us all in the name of national security as they work in the moral-free shadows. Anyone who witnessed his gut puching directorial debut of Michael Clayton knows that the director/screenwriter loves plunging us into murky worlds where the truth is merely something to be molded and shaped into something like dough and it’s this aspect that comes to the forefront the most here. The Bourne series has always featured ruthless white guys in ties, flexing their brutal political influence under the radar, but where Matt Damon’s movies made men like Conklin, Abbott and Vosen lone sharks operating free of red tape, Legacy switches things around and makes everyone culpable in the rush to delete everything that Bourne and Landy managed to drag into the light. It’s a fascinating shift in tone that, for the most part, gives us riveting glimpses of the wider world and the politics that birthed men like Bourne into the world that drains the very life out of concepts like honesty and honor like a red, white and blue vampire. Even our protagonists are tarnished, not even given the morality reset afforded to Bourne due to his amnesia and are only reacting because their bosses tried to kill them first with no other endgame in mind other to survive. This initially makes its lack of returning title character somehow ingeniously work as an intriguing plus as we realise this work is far more treacherous than even Paul Greengrass and Doug Liman even hinted at and the move even ends with news that the trilogy’s previous hope-giver, Joan Allen’s Pam Landy, will most likely be found guilty of fucking treason thanks to her benevolent efforts in the previous movie.

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However, as entertainingly volatile as the movie’s politics are, it seems to counter it by making its leads somewhat simplistic by comparison with Jeremy Renner’s Aaron Cross being more of a straight forward man on the run compared to the vulnerability that Damon got to play with – although he does make an impressively effective action man. Similarly, Rachael Weisz seems somewhat wasted in a role that isn’t that much different than the one she played years earlier in Chain Reaction, aka. that of a panicked scientist dragged along in the wake of her male saviour and you wonder if she wouldn’t have been better served by taking the villain role instead which sees Edward Norton barking the usual commands to a room full of computer bods. No one is remotely bad, you understand, but the characters are far less interesting than the world they find themselves trapped in and Renner in particular seems to be trapped in a world where he is part of numerous, action franchises (Avengers, Mission: Impossible, Bourne) that seem to have no space left to fit him in. Elsewhere, a subplot about performance enhancing drugs veers dangerously into science fiction at times with assassins that are now almost Captain America style super soldiers (faster, stronger, smarter, enhanced healing) which feels at odds with the more grounded nature of the previous three films which chiefly relied on its hero being able to intelligently fight his way out of situations like an intellectual maniac.
However, one way in which The Bourne Legacy does manage to do things a little better is with some of its action, which forgoes the rapidly edited shaky-cam style set pieces for sequences that are far smoother and easier to follow which leaves a lot of the bone crunching encounters feeling a lot more satisfying.

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Certainly not the waste of time I’d previously believed it to be, Legacy’s simplistic character arcs betray a vastly more interesting story happening behind the scenes that even features random roles for Corey Stroll and Oscar Issac and while we’ll probably never get a team up between Bourne and Cross (possibly to clear Pamela Landy’s name, if that could be arranged), this high-octane add-on is long over due for a new assessment.
Lacking identity, hardly supreme and definitely not ultimate, this legacy still has enough going on to suggest that maybe its detractors were actually Bourne yesterday.

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